The Wartime Sisters

  • Review
By – August 21, 2018

The Wartime Sis­ters is a clas­sic tale of sib­ling rival­ry in a Jew­ish fam­i­ly, but with some sur­pris­ing mod­ern twists. Ruth, the plain, book­ish old­er sis­ter and Mil­lie, her beau­ti­ful, flighty younger sib­ling, are fight­ing not just for male atten­tion, but also for valid­i­ty and self-worth. Their moth­er favors Mil­lie for her beau­ty, feed­ing Ruth’s resent­ment, while Mil­lie is only hap­py when she is babysit­ting for an Ital­ian immi­grant fam­i­ly that respects and loves her for her Amer­i­can know-how and fun-lov­ing ways rather than her looks. The girls grow up in Brook­lyn dur­ing the Great Depres­sion and reach adult­hood dur­ing World War II. Lyn­da Cohen Loigman does a mas­ter­ful job of nar­rat­ing through the use of flash­backs, not just in time but also in view­point. Instead of a lin­ear pro­gres­sion, the sto­ry is told like a tapes­try, weav­ing back and forth the shared and sep­a­rate events as the two sis­ters remem­ber them, as well as events in the life of the friend they share — Lil­lian, the priv­i­leged, patri­cian gen­tile woman who still grieves for her abused moth­er. All these pri­vate sto­ries are set against the back­drop of the Spring­field Armory in Massachusetts.

The Armory is a real his­toric site and the author describes its his­to­ry in a note at the end of the book. At the time of the rev­o­lu­tion, it was an arse­nal, and lat­er, George Wash­ing­ton estab­lished an arms fac­to­ry there which pro­vid­ed weapons for both world wars. How­ev­er, Loigman’s focus is on World War II when at one point, 43 per­cent of the work­ers at the Armory were women. It’s a bit­ter­sweet plea­sure to read a tale about that peri­od in Amer­i­can his­to­ry when the coun­try was unit­ed behind the war effort and dif­fer­ences between peo­ple were min­i­mized for the com­mon good. Defense work­ers were referred to as sol­diers of pro­duc­tion” and were able to feel that their work was vital to vic­to­ry and that they were all on the same team. Loigman paints a pic­ture of the cama­raderie among the work­ers despite their dif­fer­ent back­grounds, and the way that Lil­lian, the com­mand­ing officer’s wife, bridges the divide between the upper-class offi­cers and civil­ian workers.

The Wartime Sis­ters is a quick and engross­ing read, with a well-craft­ed plot and adept pac­ing. It’s a fresh take on his­tor­i­cal fiction.

Beth Dwoskin is a retired librar­i­an with exper­tise in Yid­dish lit­er­a­ture and Jew­ish folk music.

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